By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
CUSD breaks ground on Cesar Chavez Junior High School
The celebration started inside La Rosa Elementary School's cafeteria and ended across the street in a 19-acre dirt lot. On Saturday morning, more than 200 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony for Ceres Unified's soon-to-be-built new junior high school.

Named in honor of the late Mexican-American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, Ceres' third middle school will open in 2011-12 at the corner of Whitmore Avenue and Eastgate Boulevard.

Jose Beltran will serve as principal. Beltran, a 1991 Ripon High graduate who's currently filling the same position at Walter White Elementary, was introduced by CUSD Supt. Walt Hanline.

"We've been talking about this since January of last year," Hanline said. "After the bond passed, we came to the conclusion he (Beltran) was the best person for the job. In my opinion, he's a rising star. He's a strong leader. He connects well with kids. He's astute in analyzing data. He has high expectations for his students and staff."

Beltran has worked for Ceres Unified since 2006. He spent the previous 12 years teaching in Riverbank.

"I feel honored and humbled to take on this challenge," said Beltran, former principal of Virginia Parks Elementary (2006, 2007). "I look forward to all the work and making a difference for our students."

Mayor Anthony Cannella, council members Ken Lane and Guillermo Ochoa, Ceres School Board trustees Jim Kinard, Eric Ingwerson, Teresa Guerrero, Faye Lane, Mike Welsh and Betty Davis, Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, California State Assemblyman Bill Berryhill and California School Employees Association Field Director Rose Roach participated in the ground-breaking.

DeMartini, Berryhill and a representative from California State Senator Jeff Denham's office presented commendations to Ceres Unified, the first district in Stanislaus County to name a school after Chavez.

Berryhill served on the Ceres School Board for 11 years. He endorsed Measure U, which will help pay for the construction of Ceres Unified's new $35 million junior high.

"Lots of folks in our community worked for this," Hanline said.

The campus would consist of modular buildings, a cost-effective construction mode that was employed when CUSD built five new elementaries in Berryhill, Hidahl, Sinclear, Adkison and La Rosa campuses.

CUSD failed a hailstorm of protest earlier this year when the School Board decided to name the school after Chavez, bypassing a number of community recommendations to name the school after local folks who made an impact on the community.

Chavez (1927-93), was a Mexican-American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. It later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).Supporters say his work led to numerous improvements for union laborers. His detractors and the farming community resented his boycotts and other tactics.

Cesar Chavez Junior High School will be Ceres' third junior high of roughly 12,000 students. "The opening of a new school is an exciting and historic moment for a school District, and for the students, parents and community the District serves," Hanline said. With the opening of Chavez Junior High School, officials say Ceres Unified will carry out the commitments made under Measure U to create smaller learning communities at existing junior high schools, ensuring quality instruction, high expectations, and the development of positive relationships that enhance student success.

Ceres can use a new junior high school right now, said Assistant Superintendent Scott Siegel. Both existing junior high schools - Mae Hensley and Blaker Kinser - are too big for comfort. Ceres' junior high population is now at 1,800 with both schools roughly taking half. A third junior high means three schools of approximately 600 students.

According to Jay Simmonds, CUSD's Educational Options Coordinator and Facilities Planner, research indicates that the junior high age group experience bears a lot to do with the high school drop-out rate.

"School size really makes a difference in how connected students feel to school," said Simmonds. "We're of the belief that 900 is too big for those junior highs today."

Beltran said he is enthusiastic about opening Chavez Junior High School, and looks forward to the opportunity to serve as a role model for students at such a crucial stage in their lives.

"Junior high kids are at a great age," Beltran said. "They come with so many ideas. They're forming into adults. They have that zest for life and the excitement of limitless potential. To really provide a voice for those students and to make sure that they're heard, and their ideas are heard, is one of the reasons I became an educator."

The district is also planning a 14.4-acre site for Lucas Elementary school on Roeding Road west of Mitchell Road and

Walt Hanline Elementary School on a parcel on South Central Avenue immediately south of Central Valley High School.